Earlier this month, we reported on the launch of Southern California Edison’s new program to connect customers to the wealth of data in the new smart meters attached to their homes. It’s one of a handful of utilities in the country (outside of Texas, that is) offering real-time smart meter ZigBee radio-to-home gateway connectivity via third-party devices. But with California regulators asking all of its utilities to start turning on their home area network (HAN) capabilities, it won’t be the last.
Last week, SCE launched another smart-meter-to-home program that further tests the boundaries of the smart grid by enlisting home security company ADT as a partner. The utility will use its SmartConnect meter platform, which provides customers a link to its AMI network, to enable its meters to beam data directly to customers of ADT’s Pulse platform -- the security giant’s move into broader home automation and connectivity services.
ADT Pulse uses a broadband-connected gateway in the home that talks wirelessly to door locks, light switches, motion detectors, video cameras and other devices. It also pulls all that data back up to the cloud, where it can provide Web and mobile interfaces to customers -- all moving in pretty close to real time, Don Boerema, ADT’s chief corporate development officer, told me in an interview.
While ADT has 6.4 million customers across the country, the company doesn’t disclose how many Pulse customers it has, or how many are in SCE territory, Boerema said. But for existing Pulse customers, getting real-time home energy usage data from the utility will now be as simple as calling or going online, then having an ADT rep come by and plug a ZigBee radio module into the existing Pulse gateway, he said.
This is far from the first utility program to connect homeowners to their smart meters. We’ve seen lots of smart meters linked up to in-home platforms from startups like Tendril, Opower, EnergyHub, Energate, Onzo and AlertMe (to name a few), with demand response providers like Comverge, thermostat giants like Honeywell and Cooper Power (now part of Eaton) and networking providers like Digi also playing a role.
Some of these projects, such as Ontario province’s time-of-use pricing program, or Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s demand response program with Silver Spring Networks and Energate, are up and running on a commercial basis. But all of these programs involve utilities making deals directly with customers, then delivering them gear that’s been tuned to work with the technology the utility has in place.
Promising that any third-party device will be able to connect to your smart meter is another matter entirely -- in fact, the California Public Utilities Commission has put pretty strict guidelines on how utilities in the state certify its third-party HAN devices. At the same time, the CPUC has been pressing the state’s big three utilities -- SCE, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric -- to open up their smart meters to more third-party technologies.
ADT has built its platform in partnership with iControl, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup that’s raised more than $100 million, most recently with a $50 million Series D round last summer. Investors include Cisco, Comcast Ventures, Intel Capital, Charles River Ventures, Kleiner Perkins’ iFund, Rogers Communications and Tyco International, the parent company of ADT. (Right now, ADT Pulse uses Z-Wave wireless to connect its in-home devices, although iControl has also bought another startup, uControl, that uses ZigBee.)
As for linking up SCE’s smart meter ZigBee communications, ADT has worked hand-in-hand with the utility using the latest standards available. Right now, that means Smart Energy Profile 1.x, which only works with ZigBee, though it can be bridged to other networks. Utilities in California and across the country are awaiting the release of the next version of the standard, SEP 2.0, which will include Wi-Fi and the powerline carrier HomePlug standard as well, some time next year.
In the meantime, the ADT-iControl collaboration is only one of many taking place between retail and telecommunications providers and startups with technology to manage wireless networks and consumer interfaces in the home. Lowe’s is working with U.K. startup AlertMe, EcoFactor is working with Comcast, and iControl is partnered with Time Warner Cable, while AT&T and Verizon also have their own home automation offerings.
In the meantime, home security as a standalone service appears to be the next hot space for technology investments by VCs and private equity firms alike. Home security startup Alarm.com raised $136 million for its connected home services this summer, marking one of the biggest investments in the smart grid sector so far this year, and home-security-plus-third-party-solar player Vivint was bought by private equity firm Blackstone Group for $2 billion in September.
When it comes to making energy efficiency a part of all this newfangled home automation gear, the big question for all of these players is whether their customers care enough about energy to pay extra for it. Most homeowners have said they’re unwilling to pay much more than $50, if anything at all, to view their home energy use.
Utilities may be ready to foot much of that initial bill, at least at first. Most pilot projects involve giving away devices to customers in exchange for being able to use their data for research. It’s likely that utilities will also rebate a significant portion of the cost of third-party devices, as well -- SCE, for example, offers a $50 rebate for the $60 cost of in-home devices from Rainforest Automation, another third-party HAN partner.
The cost equation for a standalone home service like ADT’s can get a bit more complicated. The company’s SCE program web page contains a number of special offers for customers of the Pulse service that could reduce their bills, as well as promises of $100 in bill credits via the utility’s “Save Power Day Incentive Plus” program. Pulse customers tend to save energy anyway, Boerema said, just by being able to turn off lights when they’re not home and other such simple automation tasks.
How much more they might save with a full view of the energy consequences of their actions is another question. ADT is working on the issue with other utility partners, Boerema said, including FPL in Florida, Constellation Energy in Illinois, and Consolidated Edison and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) in New York.